Talking to Terrorists is an account, spanning over a decade, of traveling through the West Bank and Gaza, into the prisons in Iraq, down the alleyways of the Casa Blanca slums, inside Chechnya, into the radicalized neighborhoods of Belgium, the UK, France and the Netherlands, sitting with the hostages of Beslan and Nord Ost, and talking to terrorists… In it’s pages, Dr. Speckhard gives us an account of what puts vulnerable individuals on the terrorist trajectory and what might also take them back off it. One of the only experts to have such a breadth of experience – having interviewed over four hundred terrorists, their friends, family members and hostages – having visited, and even stayed overnight at times in the intimate spaces of terrorists’ homes, interviewing them in their stark prison cells and meeting them in the streets of their villages and cities, Dr. Speckhard gives us a rare glimpse of terrorists within their own contexts. From the mouths of terrorists, their family members, comrades—and even their hostages, we learn of the manipulation of human weakness that can lead to their evil acts. Through careful research of culture and religion, a genuine desire to understand the factors that motivate individuals to embrace terrorism, Dr. Speckhard deftly defines the lethal cocktail that leads to the creation of a terrorist. An internationally recognized expert on the psychological aspects of terrorism and an expert in the area of posttraumatic stress disorder, Dr. Speckhard’s studies also produce a knowledge of how to disengage, deradicalize and rehabilitate a terrorist, reversing his or her trajectory. Talking to Terrorists reveals the humanity in us all—especially in those we least expect—and offers possibilities for achieving a safer world.
Praise for Talking to Terrorists
“A remarkable well-written, wholly unique and seminal study combining a deep understanding of the academic literature on terrorism with an extraordinary number of sensitive and revealing interviews with terrorists. Everyone interested in terrorism will find this study fascinating and rewarding.”
—David C. Rapoport, Founding and CoEditor, Journal of Terrorism and Political Violence
“The embarrassing truth about Terrorism Studies is that most writers on the subject have never met a terrorist. Dr. Anne Speckhard is an exception; in the last ten years she conducted more than 400 interviews with terrorists and other members of the radical milieu they come from, making her work highly original and, indeed, unique. With her empathetic approach, she makes clear that most terrorists are both shockingly normal and human—but also tormented souls. Nobody has gotten closer to the ‘heart of darkness’ than she has. An amazing achievement.” —Alex P. Schmid, Director, Terrorism Research Initiative
“A daring woman with an open heart.” —Farhana Qazi, Counter Terrorism Expert
“It is very rare that one finds a book written on such a complex subject, as this one, that reads like a novel. From the moment I started reading it I could not put it down. Dr. Speckhard has shone a very bright light on a very dark subject. She has succeeded in delving into the terrorist mind and explaining it to the reader in the clearest way. As a journalist who writes about terror and counter terror I would give this book my highest recommendation.” — Joe Charlaff, Journalist, Israel
“Anne’s passport is filled with stamps from obscure and far-flung corners of the earth. All these countries have something in common: terrorism. Other researchers may interview terrorists in a controlled setting. Anne is one of a handful who goes alone and without security into the lion’s den to interview her subjects who most often have blood on their hands. This is a first-hand account from an internationally recognized terrorism expert and it’s sensational!”—Peter S. Probst, Former Assistant for Terrorism Intelligence, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (OASD/SO/LIC), Former Special Assistant for Concept Development – Office of Special Planning – Office of the Secretary of Defense and Former CIA Officer (Directorate of Operations and Directorate of Intelligence)
“Talking To Terrorists is an important contribution to the literature. Written by a psychologist with extensive field experience interviewing terrorists from a wide variety of backgrounds, countries and contexts, the book provides critical new insights into the contemporary terrorist mindset.” —Professor Bruce Hoffman, Director, Center for Security Studies, Georgetown University
“Invaluable to those in the field of terrorism studies, as well as to the general public.” —Yoram Schweitzer, Director of the Low Intensity Warfare and Terrorism Project and Senior Research Fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies
“Few academics can equal the breadth and depth of Anne Speckhard’s field research and the penetration of her specialist interviewing skills—skills that are evident in this ground-breaking book that deserves to be read and digested by policy makers, practitioners and fellow academics.” —Dr. Robert Lambert, Lecturer
Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, School of International Relations, University of St. Andrews, UK
“Talking to Terrorists is the inside story of how to approach the mind through the heart. As advisors to Detainee Task Force 134, I watched Anne in action at Camp Cropper, the world’s largest detention center. Her empathy, smile, Belgian chocolates, and paper tissues for the occasional tears, worked to enlist the cooperation of even the most hard-hearted and unrepentant killers.” —Rohan Gunaratna, Author, “Inside al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror”, Columbia University Press, New York
“Dr. Anne Speckhard’s book is a fascinating study of pathways to violent radicalization, based on her very impressive fieldwork. It is informed by a passionate desire to unlock the enigma of terroristic violence and its human and psychosocial dimensions. It should be read not only by students of political violence but also by professionals responsible for combating terrorism.” — Dr Brynjar Lia, Research Professor, The Norwegian Defense Research Est. (FFI)
”Anne Speckhard’s amazing body of work gets deep into the weeds of the terrorists’ soul. Her relentless and courageous field research allows the reader a rare glimpse into the despair the trauma, and the pain that often lurk beyond terrorists’ rage and inhumanity. A truly valuable read for all those who desire to unravel the enigma of political violence that these days more than ever threatens world stability and security.” —Arie W. Kruglanski, Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland Psychology Department and START: National Center for the Study of Terrorism and the Response to Terrorism
“Anne Speckhard is one of the rare psychologists who studies terrorism objectively without preconceived notions. She insisted to go to the Middle East, and at times to take serious risks, to meet with suicide bombers, to visit them in prisons, and to interview their families and friends in their homes. She tried to understand, not only the specific mind of the potential terrorist, but also his environment, motives and misrepresentations. As a result, Dr. Speckhard treats the phenomenon of terrorism as one that arises within a socio-political and cultural context as well as within the individual psyche. She wisely understands the clear distinction between personal faith and belief tradition, and the possible perverted and brutal acts of a terrorist. Her condemnation of this type of violence is carefully nuanced and has nothing to do with the incorrect and misguided conclusions of many other western experts who broadly and incorrectly condemn Islam as a religion, and Islamic civilization in totality. I highly recommend reading Talking to Terrorists.” —Mokhtar Benabdallaoui: Professor of Islamology, Hassan II University, Casablanca – Morocco
“A dedicated scholar of political violence, whose evocative interviews have illuminated the mind of the extremist.” —Jerrold M. Post, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Political Psychology, and International Affairs and Director of the Political Psychology Program, The Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University
“There has been a great deal written on how and why individuals become terrorists. With notable exception, such works have often been theoretical or antidotal in nature. Detailed interviews with terrorists, and for that matter their families, have often been the product of the interviews of military police or military authorities, which are classified and not available to the public.
Dr. Anne Speckhard has used her very impressive knowledge as a highly skilled psychologist to go into harm’s way, into places where terrorists and their families live or die. Through her impressive sensitivity and humanity, her interviews and analysis give both the specialist and the public a meaningful view into how individuals are radicalized and enter the violent world of terrorism. Perhaps, most important is that Dr. Speckhard’s work suggests how the cycle of terrorist recruitment can be broken.
Talking to Terrorists is an arresting, highly readable book that has made a major and, indeed, a classic contribution to our study and more importantly our understanding of terrorism.” —Stephen Sloan, Professor Emeritus, University of Oklahoma Distinguished Fellow, Office of Global Perspectives, University of Central Florida Senior Fellow: The Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT)
“Anne Speckhard is sharing with the reader her extensive experience and unique approach based on interviewing many terrorists, failed suicide attackers and their families. With her psychological expertise in posttraumatic stress disorders, Anne offers a new approach for understanding the motivation of terrorists in general, and suicide attackers in particular – an approach that contributes to the developing scholarly discourse in this field.”—Dr. Boaz Ganor, Ronald Lauder Chair in Counter Terrorism, Founder & Executive Director, ICT – The International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, Deputy Dean, Lauder School of Government, Herzliya, Israel, The Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel
“One may not agree with Dr. Speckhard’s largely sympathetic accounts of the Palestinian and Chechen jihadi terrorists profiled in the book, but her access to these incarcerated perpetrators and supporting communities is unsurpassed, making this an invaluable resource for those wishing to understand their motives and characteristics. The well-written stories of her adventures meeting these terrorists read like a gripping documentary movie.” —Dr. Joshua Sinai, adjunct associate professor/research, Virginia Tech, Arlington, VA
“Anne has made seminal contributions to the field of terrorism research, particularly in highlighting the importance of geography and trauma. Her ability to extract critical information related to motivations is absolutely uncanny, as is her ability to get access to radicalized individuals and their victims. One of the best in this area.” —Laurie Fenstermacher, U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory
“Talking to Terrorists breaks new ground in unearthing [terrorists’] motives, which is essential for formulating intelligent counter terrorism strategy. With hundreds of terrorist interviews from around the globe, Dr. Speckhard has entered the lion’s den to produce scholarship that actually matters.” —Max Abrahms, Johns Hopkins University